Huge opening weekend for Blackcomb 

Opening day of the ski season is always a big deal in Whistler, but this year’s early season excitement was off the charts.

On Nov. 5 Blackcomb opened with a crowd estimated to be around 1,000 people lined up waiting for the first lift to start loading. The first chair went to a group of students from Whistler Secondary School, one of whom was in line at 11 p.m. the night before. He was joined by his friends around 3 a.m.

Dave Paul, who has opened both mountains for as long as anyone could remember showed up at 6 a.m. and was surprised to find the students in line.

"These young guys are crazy," he said. "But I’ll still beat them to fresh tracks down the mountain once we’re up there."

Part of the excitement comes from the earliest opening for either mountain in 20 years. Whistler-Blackcomb further stoked that excitement by posting pictures taken earlier in the week of mountain staff skiing and boarding in waist-deep powder.

Whistler-Blackcomb does not release skier numbers, but said the opening day numbers were the best in more than 10 years.

There were a few hiccups. A few skiers and boarders headed out of bounds, ignoring the posted signs, and one suffered a compressed vertebrae and had to be evacuated by helicopter at his own expense.

"The beginning of the year does mark a significant amount of enthusiasm, and over-enthusiasm," said Christina Moore, public relations and communications manager for Whistler-Blackcomb. "Our ski patrollers did an excellent job of fencing off and marking areas that are closed, and we do as much as we can to get the message out there. Our message on the snow phone warns that it’s early season conditions, we try to get the message out everywhere that people should stay in the boundaries, where it’s safe to ski, where the patrollers are patrolling. But there are always people who will wander outside and push their limits.

"People who have been here for a number of years probably already know the dangers, and if they head out of bounds are prepared to do it safely. We need to get the message out to the new people to obey the boundary signs out there, they are there for a reason. We will open those areas when it’s safe to do so."

While there were a few calls, ski patrol wasn’t overly active for the number of skiers.

Only three chairs were running for skiing on the weekend, The Catskinner, Solar Coaster and Jersey Cream, as well as the Wizard chair for uploading, and the Wizard, Excelerator and Excalibur Gondola for downloading.

Overall, Whistler-Blackcomb is calling the day a success.

"We were certainly pleasantly surprised by the crowd, and we will open the Excelerator and Excalibur Gondola again this week for downloading, but we are extremely happy," said Moore. "The whole senior management team was out on the slopes both days, and helped with the uploading and downloading, and talking to people about their experience, and everyone they talked to was extremely happy, and surprised to the see the conditions as good as they were."

Whistler-Blackcomb did a significant amount of summer grooming this year, cutting bushes, trees and grass on the runs so the areas could be opened safely with less snow. That also helped to improve opening day conditions, said Moore.

"The areas that were widened and expanded worked well this weekend, and the slopes were in much better condition than they have been in the past so we were able to open up more terrain with less snow," she added.

So far the forecast looks good with Environment Canada calling for up to 50 cm of new snow in the alpine from Thursday to Sunday.

Blackcomb Mountain will be open four days this week, from Friday, Nov. 11 to Monday Nov. 14, and will open daily the following weekend. Whistler Mountain will open on Thursday, Nov. 24.

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